Eric D. Weitz: The Paris System: International Order through Ethnic Cleansing?

Abstract for the conference Das 20. Jahrhundert und der Erste Weltkrieg

Minority protection, forced deportations, and the “civilizing mission” emerged together in the last third of the nineteenth century. They were all part of a tectonic shift in political conceptions: from traditional diplomacy to population politics, from mere territorial adjustments to the handling of entire population groups categorized by ethnicity, nationality, or race, or some combination thereof, from the Vienna to the Paris system. This liberal international came to fruition between 1919 and 1923 in the wake of World War I. Two global areas, the borderlands region of Eastern Europe (and stretching into Anatolia) and Africa, rarely considered together, constituted the critical sites for the emergence of the Paris system. Its history shows that the origins of human rights standards are not as pristine and pure as many recent studies suggest; a major part of their history lies in a way of thinking about populations — group protection and group rights – that entailed the very same thought patterns that enabled and promoted forced deportations. The Paris system did not end in 1939 with the onset of World War II, nor even in 1945 with the war’s end. The notion of sovereignty rooted in national homogeneity remains a principle of international politics down to our present day. In many ways, we still live in the Paris system world.

Eric D. Weitz is Dean of Humanities and Arts and Professor of History at the City College of New York. Trained in modern European and German history, his work in recent years has extended to the history and politics of international human rights and crimes against humanity.